There's a potentially exciting investment opportunity brewing this week, blending a mix of racial politics, political stagecraft, and the kind of free publicity that every business executive dreams of. I'm talking about the scheduled meeting this Thursday at the White House, when President Obama will sit down with Harvard professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police, who arrested Gates in his home one afternoon this month.
The brewing investment opportunity? Beer. Obama proposed that the three sit down for a beer, and there's a 50 percent chance that the brew of choice will be Samuel Adams, made by Boston Brewing Company (SAM). Boston Brewing's CEO Jim Koch is a former consultant with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which has enjoyed a $7 million contract with the U.S. for its role in helping General Motors and Chrysler get into and out of bankruptcy.
After the President last week initially commented that the Cambridge police had acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates, all of his efforts to promote health-care reform have been eclipsed by planning happy hour. The police had been called to Gates's home on a report of a possible breaking-and-entering, and Gates was ultimately arrested for disturbing the peace (and soon released, with charges dropped). The incident took on racial tones — Gates is African-American, the arresting officer white — and the President, with uncharacteristic political stupidity, soon waded into the mess. Now he's trying to wade out with a few sips of beer.
But instead of going with Samuel Adams, a choice that could bridge a cultural gap between the officer and the professor, Obama could serve the brew he poured on election night. Last November 4, with the results in, Obama's celebratory party served 3,000 bottles of Chicago's Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale and Honker's Ale. (Goose Island isn't publicly traded, so no investment play here.)
In light of the chance that it will get immense free publicity this week, is Boston Beer a good investment? It's probably not a great bet. The stock is up two percent today, and it's had a good run — up 67 percent — since mid-March, when it hit $18.33. But it trades at a lofty P/E of 33, so Boston Brewing will need to sell a lot more bottles of Sam Adams to support that price.
Either way, though, only time will tell whether the White House beer party will help Obama put this incident in the rear-view mirror, so he can return his attention to passing a plan for universal health care.
Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College. His eighth book is You Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing. He has no financial interest in the securities mentioned.